Licensing hours to remain staggered across ‘Shire

HOPES of a level playing ground for Wigtownshire’s licensees were quashed last Friday when councillors agreed following a consultation to maintain a 2am closing policy for Stranraer and 1am for Newton Stewart.

At a meeting of the Wigtown Licensing Board in Stranraer, the board were shown the results of a review undertaken over the past two months by licensing officers who consulted with landlords, business groups, NHS representatives and youngsters in Newton Stewart to determine the general feeling of the current 1am closure for the town.

Claims had been made last year that the introduction of a staggered closing time across the county was damaging trade in Newton Stewart, with customers fleeing to Stranraer for an extra hour of partying. The decision was taken last May to allow the larger town an hour more than Newton Stewart in a bid to cut antisocial behaviour and allow police officers to concentrate their efforts in one area.

But following the decision on Friday, licensee Derek Hart from The Crown Hotel in Newton Stewart said he wouldn’t give up.

He told The Gazette: “The whole thing is unfair and unjust, but this isn’t the end. We will continue to fight this. We’re no longer looking for a change to allow us to remain open until 2am - we know that won’t happen. But we would like to see an equal footing for all businesses in the area. Why should the council favour one town and one set of businesses over another? They can’t see what damage this is doing to us, for some reason.

“We gave them the figures showing a drop in trade but they seem to have ignored that and instead have shown this to be a positive and necessary policy.”

It was also suggested that the consultation findings, which returned no ‘negative impacts’ from anyone involved in relation to maintaining a 1am closure, were “skewered” and didn’t show a fair representation of the people in the town.

This was the claim by the Wigtownshire Chamber of Commerce president Peter Jeal, who now represents both Stranraer and Newton Stewart through one Chamber, which was recently merged.

He said: “Everything has been done on the hoof here. The responses sent back from the various groups totally misrepresent the situation.

“The Chamber of Commerce has never argued that the reduction in hours has not reduced incidents of antisocial behaviour or that we want a 2am license in Newton Stewart. All we want is for one group of businesses to not be disadvantaged in this way. Licensees submitted detailed information to the council for this impact statement and none of his has been reflected. I just don’t understand it.”

At the meeting, councillor Sandra McDowall, who was chairing in place of Iain Dick who stepped down for this case, said she wanted clarification that Gordon Andrews, who represented Newton Stewart Business Association in the review but who is also a licensee, had been briefed that his responses were to be entirely representative of the Business Association and not of himself as a licensee.

Licensing clerk Willie Taylor confirmed this and said it had been pointed out on several occasions.